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Commentary: Gus Johnson’s departure leaves void in tournament coverage

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament never will be the same.

No, it’s not because Connecticut and Butler made James Naismith spin in his grave with an unprecedentedly awful championship game. Nor is it because of further expansion.

After failing to agree on a new contract with CBS, Gus Johnson will no longer call tournament games for the network.

So, for the foreseeable future, the tournament will lack the voice that captured the frenzied nature of each game.

Imagine if Jim Nantz called Ron Lewis’ shot against Xavier in 2007. As we transitioned to commercial, we would’ve been hit with some unbearable pun, such as “a three for Ron and overtime for all — the Musketeers and Buckeyes after this.”

Yes, we’ll still get our dose of Johnson during Big Ten play, as he still is expected to do basketball for Big Ten Network.

No one can turn each play in an Iowa-Northwestern game exciting quite like he can. Big Ten fans won’t lack his pizzazz, but most of the nation will — on the big tournament stage.

He called NCAA Tournament games for 16 years, but now his presence will be replaced by guys like Tim Brando, who unleashed this gem of a call after Butler’s Matt Howard beat Old Dominion with a buzzer-beating tip-in: “Butler … did it again!”

Clearly, there are few who can capture the moment quite like Johnson can.

Traditionalists might prefer an understated announcer, in the Pat Summerall mold. Yet, it’s hard to mimic his voice and simultaneously speak so eloquently with such few words.

Summerall and Johnson are on opposite ends of the spectrum — really. Most announcers try to strike a balance between the two … unless you’re Joe Buck, who is in a class of his own. He always sounds like he just found out his dog died right before going on air.

Johnson reactions are more genuine than most. Sports fans tend to get excited when they see a remarkable play in a tense moment, and Johnson’s announcing style mimics this.

Take his call of OSU’s Matt Sylvester’s game-winner against an undefeated Illinois in 2005. After he hit the shot, Johnson screamed uncontrollably, much like Buckeye fans.

This informal style apparently is appealing to the Internet savvy. In March, someone created an online soundboard for Johnson, capturing his best bytes, including “here comes the pain” or “he’s got getting-away-from-the-cops speed.”

CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell conducted an informal poll on Twitter, which showed that two of every three people say Johnson gets them to watch a game they normally wouldn’t watch.

Apparently Johnson’s stronghold in the social media realm is something that CBS, which caters to its viewers’ median age of 55, doesn’t understand.

As the lead college football announcer for Fox, Johnson may be taking a step forward in his eyes. Still, the entertainment value of the NCAA Tournament takes a clear step backward with his absence.

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